By Lisel Thomas
At 55 years old I farewelled my colleagues, my job and my life as an urban planner. Three days later I walked into a classroom for my first university lecture as a student in decades. I was on my way to becoming an Early Childhood Teacher.
A career in urban planning in local and State government had given me enormous satisfaction but even great roles can lose their spark. When an opportunity to take an Early Retirement Package came up, I volunteered. It was time to embrace change and try something that would bring me both new challenges and joy.
At the time, I didn’t have a clear idea of what I would do next but took the leap anyway. Other urban planning roles weren’t all that appealing and as my departure date got closer, the idea of becoming a kinder teacher took shape. I eventually enrolled in Victoria University’s one-year Graduate Diploma in Early Childhood Education and from that point have not looked back.
Some colleagues said, “I wish I could do something like that”. I know money can be an issue and the early retirement payout made a huge difference. I was also able to cover university fees and more through the State Government Early Childhood Scholarships and Incentives Program (more information here: https://www.vic.gov.au/financial-support-study-and-work-early-childhood).
I had several (much younger) colleagues say they were inspired that I was making such a big move at my age. Instead of getting offended by their perception of me as an old lady I decided I would take pride in being a role model.
The only person expressing negative opinions was a friend who is already a kinder teacher. She thought I was mad!
It took a while to readjust to uni life. Throwing myself straight in took my mind off any reservations I may have had, but it is a lot different to what I experienced in the 1980s and 90s. I am now a lot older than most other students (and many of my lecturers) and international students were not common when I first studied but make up most of my current cohort. This makes for an interesting experience when I am doing group assignments with students the same age as my own kids.
I am worried about my ability to withstand the physical demands of this new role. When watching ‘Old People’s Home for Four-Year-Olds’ recently, I realised I was closer in age to the old people than I was to the children. Years behind a desk haven’t helped either and I’m hoping that working with young children will be an inspiration to keep active and healthy.
Investment in early childhood education has significant social and economic benefits and recent State government announcements of funded three-year-old kindergarten, new facilities across Victoria and extra resources for children with additional needs in the early childhood sector are all very promising. I am also pleased that nearly half the students in my course are men. This is great news for what is a very female-dominated workplace.
Being an Early Childhood Teacher is an amazing opportunity and I’m thrilled by the prospect of being able to make a difference in the lives of children and their families. I can’t wait to start and look forward to many years working in the sector. Wish me luck!